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Special Ed

2012 November 21
by honcho


Special Ed is indeed special to me. It is my first electronium.  In fact, it predates my concept of an electronium. More than any of Ed’s younger siblings, it is an improvisation in solder. I began by building a prototypical circuit that I had been discussing with my friend and mentor Grant Richter at the bottom right of piece of perfboard (see  middle photo below)  This circuit later gained fame as ‘the wogglebug’.  After I wired this little corner I liked the results so much that I started embellishing it, improvisationally. The process really had no more ‘plan’ to it than me saying:

‘Hmmm, let’s put one of these circuits here. That might be cool.’

…and the rest of the organism just sort of accreted itself into the form you see in photos below.

Ed is partially patchable. The majority of the control voltage routings are patchable via single conductor banana jacks. A block diagram is on the device itself and it’s visible in the  bottom photo. I’m a color-oriented guy and Ed is a VERY crowded panel. Ed is the smallest of my electroniums to date.  I used miniature potentiometers with 1/8-inch shafts. In many cases there was no room for a knob so I put colored, dip-molded tips on the shafts to create a better grip;  crude, but functional.

Special Ed was a success, insofar as I had enormous fun performing on him. This particular bit of fun is important in my history because if Ed had bored me. I would never have begun to consider that quirky, inflexible, hardwired  functions would yield enough ‘juice’ to be worth the trouble to build. Put another way Ed proved the concept of electroniums to me, and the validation he provided encouraged me to think about analog synthesizer performance in a way that diverged from the general-purpose, modular orthodoxy.

Ed is special in one other way. He is the only electronium for which I created a manual. It is very tongue-in-cheek but still serious enough that a beginner could use it to orient themselves and get a sound from Ed. The illustrations on this page were taken from the manual.

Ed’s Journey

Another distinction that Ed holds uniquely is that he is the only electronium I’ve built that ever traveled, and there’s a story there. Ed was begun shortly after I first met Grant Richter and his guidance and inspiration were indispensable in Ed’s creation. Most of the work was done in the summer and fall of 2001. I finished Ed  in early November and decided that I should send him up to Wisconsin to visit the biological father of his wogglebug section. You may recall that there were some other newsworthy events that took place in September of  2001.  I boxed Ed up very carefully, and thoroughly and took the box to the large UPS depot that was near my workplace.  Ed made it as far as the conveyer behind the shipping clerks desk before there were alarms and revolving red lights going off all around me.  A sturdy uniformed woman summoned me back to the desk and began interrogating me about the contents of the box. To be fair to UPS,  this depot is the depot that serves several large military aerospace contractors in the vicinity.

Now… if you’re a little fuzzy about the definition of an electronium, imagine trying to explain the concept to a newly-minted inspector with the memory of 9-11 only two months old,  looking at an X-ray image of what you see below!

After some rather strained discourse, we finally established that I was claiming that it was a musical instrument. But the diligent inspector decided that if this package was going any farther into UPS’s system I was going to have to prove that it played music(!!!). Of course Ed is a line-level device and requires amplification. I figured I was sunk,  and was preparing to give up and leave when a driver who serviced our nearby facility and had been observing , spoke up.

‘Shirley, this guy works two blocks away. He’s on my afternoon pickup, and I have an amp in my car.

[I’ll skip a lot of rich dialogue here and fast forward to:]

Shirley the inspector: ‘You tellin’ me that’s music…huh?

Ken the driver: ‘ It’s all in the ear of the listener, Shirley. It ain’t my cup of tea either but it’s clearly not a bomb’

She was skeptical about my sanity and Ken’s but she was warily satisfied that whatever Ed was, He was  non-explosive.

…and he was allowed to resume his journey to the bosom of one of his progenitors.




Special Ed contains:

A Wogglebug circuit

A random-sourced Shift-Register for control voltage generation (which is an early step in the evolution of the Goldberg Function generator)

A Resonant VCF

A stylus-based stepped control voltage generator

A four channel mixer

A variable decay envelope generator


A tri/saw/pulse-wave VCO with hard sync, fm, & pwm.




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